Claiming Your Place At the Fire

Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose

Claiming Your Place At the Fire
  • By the authors of the bestselling Repacking Your Bags (over 300,000 copies sold) and Whistle While You Work (over 40,000 copies sold)
  • While most related books deal with aging and retirement as decline, this is a new and enlightening approach to what the authors call "vital aging"
  • Uses the timeless, primordial metaphor of fire as a powerful organizing device to describe the four key characteristics of "new elders"
  • By the authors of the bestselling Repacking Your Bags (over 450,000 copies sold) and Whistle While You Work (over 60,000 copies sold)

    While most related books deal with aging and retirement as decline, this is a new and enlightening approach to what the authors call "vital aging"

    Uses the timeless, primordial metaphor of fire as a powerful organizing device to describe the four key characteristics of "new elders"

    Richard Leider and David Shapiro helped hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people discover the true purpose of their lives with their classic bestseller Repacking Your Bags. Now they focus their attention on the second half of life, showing readers how to claim their rightful place as new elders, men and women who, the authors write, "use the second half of life as an empty canvas, a blank page, a hunk of clay to be crafted on purpose."

    Claiming Your Place at the Fire uses dozens of inspiring and surprising stories of new elders, as well as thought-provoking exercises like the Fireside Chats that conclude each chapter, to help readers address four key questions:

    Who am I? How do I stoke the wisdom gained in the first half of my life to burn more brightly in the second half?

    Where do I belong? What makes a place the right place for me in the second half?

    What do I care about? Where do I want to use my gifts and talents in the second half? What is my purpose? How do I leave a legacy that has real meaning for myself and my loved ones?

    What is my purpose? How do I leave a legacy that has real meaning for myself and my loved ones?

    For the next 12 years, there will be 10,000 people a day in the U.S. alone turning 50. Never before have so many entered into the second half of life so vital, healthy, and free. And never before have so many had such a hunger for direction in how to live this stage of their lives in a purposeful way. Claiming Your Place at the Fire shows how to embrace the lessons that we learn as we age and share these lessons in a manner that is relevant and meaningful to ourselves and the people whose lives we touch.

    • By the authors of the bestselling Repacking Your Bags (over 300,000 copies sold) and Whistle While You Work (over 40,000 copies sold)
    • While most related books deal with aging and retirement as decline, this is a new and enlightening approach to what the authors call "vital aging"
    • Uses the timeless, primordial metaphor of fire as a powerful organizing device to describe the four key characteristics of "new elders"

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Overview

  • By the authors of the bestselling Repacking Your Bags (over 300,000 copies sold) and Whistle While You Work (over 40,000 copies sold)
  • While most related books deal with aging and retirement as decline, this is a new and enlightening approach to what the authors call "vital aging"
  • Uses the timeless, primordial metaphor of fire as a powerful organizing device to describe the four key characteristics of "new elders"
  • By the authors of the bestselling Repacking Your Bags (over 450,000 copies sold) and Whistle While You Work (over 60,000 copies sold)

    While most related books deal with aging and retirement as decline, this is a new and enlightening approach to what the authors call "vital aging"

    Uses the timeless, primordial metaphor of fire as a powerful organizing device to describe the four key characteristics of "new elders"

    Richard Leider and David Shapiro helped hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people discover the true purpose of their lives with their classic bestseller Repacking Your Bags. Now they focus their attention on the second half of life, showing readers how to claim their rightful place as new elders, men and women who, the authors write, "use the second half of life as an empty canvas, a blank page, a hunk of clay to be crafted on purpose."

    Claiming Your Place at the Fire uses dozens of inspiring and surprising stories of new elders, as well as thought-provoking exercises like the Fireside Chats that conclude each chapter, to help readers address four key questions:

    Who am I? How do I stoke the wisdom gained in the first half of my life to burn more brightly in the second half?

    Where do I belong? What makes a place the right place for me in the second half?

    What do I care about? Where do I want to use my gifts and talents in the second half? What is my purpose? How do I leave a legacy that has real meaning for myself and my loved ones?

    What is my purpose? How do I leave a legacy that has real meaning for myself and my loved ones?

    For the next 12 years, there will be 10,000 people a day in the U.S. alone turning 50. Never before have so many entered into the second half of life so vital, healthy, and free. And never before have so many had such a hunger for direction in how to live this stage of their lives in a purposeful way. Claiming Your Place at the Fire shows how to embrace the lessons that we learn as we age and share these lessons in a manner that is relevant and meaningful to ourselves and the people whose lives we touch.

    • By the authors of the bestselling Repacking Your Bags (over 300,000 copies sold) and Whistle While You Work (over 40,000 copies sold)
    • While most related books deal with aging and retirement as decline, this is a new and enlightening approach to what the authors call "vital aging"
    • Uses the timeless, primordial metaphor of fire as a powerful organizing device to describe the four key characteristics of "new elders"
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Meet the Authors


Visit Author Page - David Shapiro



David A. Shapiro is the Education Director of the Northwest Center for Philosophy for Children, a non-profit organization that brings philosophy into the lives of young people in schools and community groups.


Visit Author Page - Richard Leider


Richard Leider is the founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company – and is ranked by Forbes as one of the “Top 5” most respected executive coaches, by Linkage as one of the “Top 50” executive coaches, and by the Conference Board as a “legend in coaching.”

As a Keynote Speaker, he has helped more than 100,000 leaders from over 50 corporations such as AARP, Ericsson, Mayo Clinic, and MetLife discover the power of purpose.

Richard is the author of nine books, including three best sellers, and his work has been translated into 21 languages.Repacking Your Bags and The Power of Purpose are considered classics in the personal growth field. His newest book, Life Reimagined, has been touted as the breakthrough book on the “second half of life.”He is a contributing author to many coaching books, including:Coaching for Leadership, The Art and Practice of Leadership Coaching, Executive Coaching for Results, The Leader of the Future, and The Organization of the Future.

Richard holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling and is a Nationally Certified Master Career Counselor.As a Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, he leads The Purpose Project.He is also a Carlson Executive Fellow at the University of Minnesota School of Management and a guest lecturer in the Harvard Business School. 

Richard is quoted regularly in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fast Company, and on PBS public television, NPR public radio, and other media sources.

Richard’s work has been recognized with awards from the Bush Foundation, from which he was awarded a Bush Fellowship and the Fielding Institutes Outstanding Scholar for Creative Longevity and Wisdom award.He was named a “Distinguished Alumni” by Gustavus Adolphus College, and to the “Hall of Fame” at Central High School.

For 30 years, Richard has led Inventure Expedition walking safaris in Tanzania, East Africa.He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Prologue: At the Fireside: The New Elder
Introduction: The Four Flames of Vital Aging
1. The Flame of Identity: Recalling Our Stories
2. The Flame of Community: Refinding Our Place
3. The Flame of Passion: Renewing Our Calling
4. The Flame of Meaning: Reclaiming Our Purpose
Epilogue: Keeping the Fire Alive

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¯»¿ Claiming Your Place at the Fire

9781576758779_0018_001

Introduction
The Four Flames of Vital Aging
Living on Purpose in the Second Half of Life

In our earlier book, Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Rest of Your Life, we developed a definition of the “good life” that included four components: place, people, work, and purpose. We defined the good life as “Living in the place you belong, with people you love, doing the right work, on purpose.” While this definition applied to people who were in the first half of their lives, we’ve found it to be no less pertinent to individuals who are entering into the second half.

In the second half of life, the same questions that drive our conception of the good life during the first half inevitably return. Who am I? Where do I belong? What do I care about? What is my life’s purpose? Only now, in the second half, we have a unique opportunity to be the author of our own story. We have a chance to rewrite it, rather than simply replicate the first half.

It has become clear to us that becoming a new elder demands a rekindling of the good life. It requires drawing upon the wisdom we have gained in the first half.

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With the four components of the good life in mind, we have been able to identify four common principles among those seasoned citizens who are becoming new elders—individuals who are living on purpose in the second half of their lives.

These principles have become apparent as we’ve observed the indicators around us. Unfortunately, unlike the Hadza, we have no Honey Guide to guide us. We have had, however, the good fortune to witness dozens of new elders— our own Honey Guides—in action. Their choices, behaviors, and ways of moving through the world have enabled us to identify the “four flames of vital aging”—the key components of a life lived on purpose during the second half.

These new elders have rekindled the good life for the second half. They have stoked the fire within and are sharing its warmth and light with others.

This fire metaphor does not arise by accident. It emerges naturally out of an ongoing exploration of what it means to be truly human. After all, nothing is more essential to the human experience than the experience of fire. Fire connects us to the deepest core of our shared humanity. Our most distant ancestors depended upon fire for their survival; our most distant descendents, like us, will employ fire in some form in order to live. The use of fire is quite literally what separates human beings from non-human beings. It is this understanding of the vital role that fire plays in our humanity that has given rise to the myths and stories of fire among indigenous peoples.

One of the most common ways that we talk about vitality is in terms of “keeping the fire alive.” For this reason—as well as for the abiding role fire plays in linking past, present, and future—the fire theme naturally emerges in our story of new elders. Each of the four key principles of new elders is embodied in a characteristic of fire. In claiming our place at the fire as new elders, we claim each of these aspects ourselves.

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1. The Flame of Identity: Recalling Our Stories

Principle: Wisdom

Firestarter Question: Who Am I?

New elders harvest and transfer the wisdom of the past into the present. They know the important narratives of their culture, whatever that culture is. Joseph Campbell said, “The first requirement of any society is that its adult membership should realize and represent the fact it is they who constitute its life and being . . . and on which that society itself must depend for its existence.” Elders teach by story. But it isn’t simply recalling stories about “the good old days.” Rather, it is an ability to touch the lives and lived experience of others through their own experiences in a manner that brings it alive in the present, through the past.

2. The Flame of Community: Refinding Our Place

Principle: Intimacy

Firestarter Question: Where Do I Belong?

New elders know where they belong in the world; they have a powerful sense of place—where they have come from, where they are, and where they are going.

Consequently, they are able to reaffirm who they are for the journey ahead; grounded in the rich history of their first half, they feel alive to the challenges of the second half.

3. The Flame of Passion: Renewing Our Calling

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Principle: Caring Firestarter Question: What Do I Care About?

Perhaps no challenge is greater for people in the second half of life than to find something meaningful and valuable to do with their gifts. New elders consistently meet that challenge by applying their gifts in support of young people and the community at large. New elders care passionately about those who follow in their footsteps. They find deep satisfaction in giving their gifts in new ways that serve others rather than just themselves. And they accept this as a critical responsibility of their elderhood. Consequently, new elders are all about “giving it away.” They know that a person is strong not in proportion to what he or she can hold on to, but rather, according to what the person can give up. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are free-spending philanthropists when it comes to money; it does, however, usually mean they are extremely generous with advice, counsel, and support. While elders may hold important positions in life, they realize that real power stems from the willingness and ability to share it with others. They see wisdom as something that is inherent within everyone and, like the ancient philosopher Socrates, are passionate about helping to inspire that depth of wisdom within those around them.

4. The Flame of Meaning: Reclaiming Our Purpose

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Principle: Meaning

Firestarter Question: What Is My Legacy?

New elders know “why they get up in the morning,” and it isn’t just because their alarm clock goes off. As a matter of fact, for many new elders, the alarm that dragged them out of bed for so many years has been permanently retired. Freed up from imposed schedules, they now find the freedom to make their own. And with that freedom, they are enthusiastically greeting the day, fired up about all they can do at last. These new elders burn with the beacon that guides them: their purpose. They light the way for themselves and for others to follow. The incandescence of such elders is powerfully illuminating. As they forge ahead, lit by the fire of purpose, they light the way into the future.

The four flames of vital aging represent choices available to all of us. We can make those choices no matter what age or stage we are in life. And while they are no doubt choices that lend themselves more naturally to those of us in the second half of life, new elders are by no means the elderly. In fact, as we may realize, it is often aging, or the fear of it, that prevents many of us from ever really becoming elders.

Now, more than ever, we need new elders among us. New elders are natural resources that are needed today by the family, the community, the organization, and the Earth. We can’t wait for the wise ones to come. We need to become the new elders. It is incumbent upon us to accept the mantle of becoming new elders for ourselves, our loved ones, and the planet as a whole.

Stepping into the Elder Circle

In his powerful account of age and aging, Ram Dass discusses an activity called an Elder Circle, which he does with people in the second half of life to help them appreciate their power and wisdom. Employing a form common to traditional cultures, he invites the oldest members of groups he brings together to sit in the inner circle and share their wisdom with the younger members, who sit around them in an outer circle. He reports that many of the elders who take part in this exercise say that it is the first time their wisdom has ever been appreciated. In Ram Dass’s words, “Because it does not know what to do with older people, our society has become impoverished of precisely those qualities its elders could offer. Unfortunately, most elders don’t know, themselves, what it is they have to offer.”

Our intention in this book is similar to what Ram Dass does in that exercise. We hope to provide you with a framework for coming to respect and appreciate your own power— a power of purpose that grows with age.

To claim one’s power as a new elder, a certain amount of reflection upon the past is necessary. The lessons learned in the first half of life must be revisited and reapplied to the second half. This book is structured to help you do that.

In the next chapter, The Flame of Identity: Recalling Our Stories, we explore the guidance that the power of narrative gives us as we wonder “Who Am I?” As we are becoming new elders, it is incumbent upon us to harvest the wisdom we have gained during the first half of life in order to sow its seeds for the second half. Recalling the stories that make us (and which have made us) who we are sets the context for connecting and reconnecting with friends, family, and community members. We are thus better positioned to expand upon and share our wisdom with others as new elders.

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Chapter 2, The Flame of Community: Refinding Our Place, addresses the question “Where Do I Belong?” Becoming a new elder offers us a unique opportunity for reexamining our place in the world. This chapter guides us by helping us to wonder what makes a place “home” and what we can do to create a sense of sacred space for the second half of life.

Chapter 3, The Flame of Passion: Renewing Our Calling, is a guide to the “What Do I Care About?” question. We investigate how, as new elders, we can continue to heed our calling in the next phase of life. As we move from full participation in the work world to the vocation of elderhood, we can use our gifts in new ways, through mentoring and other sorts of relationships that connect us to others through meaningful work.

Chapter 4: The Flame of Meaning: Reclaiming Our Purpose offers guidance for the biggest of the big questions, “What Is My Legacy?” It examines the power of purpose within the framework of the recognition that becoming a new elder is ultimately spiritual work. As we move into the second half of our lives, it becomes more and more clear that the time we spend here on Earth is only part of our overall story. Coming to terms with our spirituality and making friends with death as a teacher are some of the topics examined in this chapter as we find ways to keep the fire burning long after our own life’s fire has burned low.

In the epilogue, Keeping the Fire Alive, we pull together the principles and stories of the previous chapters and formulate them into a manifesto for new elders in the twenty-first century. We provide a challenge for all persons in the second half of their lives to live on purpose and claim their place at the fire!

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What If This Dream Were True?

As we began work on this book, Dave had a dream that could only have been inspired by the discussions and content. He recalls:


The dream began with my death. I was in an airplane and it plummeted to Earth, killing all of us on board

I found myself in the afterlife, where I was given a unique opportunity. I was permitted to return alive to Earth for 24 hours, during which time I would be able to say my goodbyes to loved ones. I felt a great sense of urgency to communicate my feelings for my daughter and wife, especially. In the dream, I returned home where my daughter was doing her usual 6-year-old things—being willful, testing boundaries, exploring life in ways that would typically make me want to steer clear or distract her with the TV or a video. Instead, I felt incredibly honored to be permitted to take part in her world. In the dream, I put my head right next to hers and absorbed the world from her perspective. I wanted nothing more than to just “be there” with her as she was being.

Similarly, in the dream, I was frantic to spend my allotted 24 hours rekindling the passion in my relationship with my wife. I wanted to set aside all the day-to-day negotiations and compromise that go along with making a marriage work and just get back to the essence of what initially drew us together. Again, in the dream, I remember thinking how vital it was that I just experience my wife, Jennifer, as a person, without trying to impose my expectations or wishes upon her. I just wanted to drink as deeply as I could of her in the time I had left.

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When I awoke, I was terribly relieved that it was all just a dream and that I wasn’t already dead. But all that day, I couldn’t help thinking that, in a way, the dream captured what life is or could be all about. What if, I wondered, I tried to keep in mind what a great gift this life is and how critical it is that I use all the time I have to let those I love know that I love them—not for whom I expect them to be, but for whom they are.


As we move into the second half of our lives, suppose we were to wonder if Dave’s dream was, in essence, true? It’s certainly a possibility explored throughout history in many works from great literature to popular culture. Think of Dante’s journey through heaven and hell as he strayed from the right path, midway upon the journey of life in The Divine Comedy. Or of George Bailey’s chance to see what the world would be like if he’d never been born in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Getting a second chance in the second half of life is a desire that tugs at us from the deepest levels. Having an opportunity to rewrite the second chapter by drawing upon what we’ve learned during the first is a dream we all share.

As we approach our fourth decade, we begin to think a lot about who we are and where we’re going. We begin listening to the still, small voice gently whispering “what is my truest purpose?” The “second half” begins at that time in most of our lives—usually between the ages of 35 and 55—when we begin to realize we aren’t going to live forever. We begin to seriously value our most precious currency, our remaining time. This universal, sometimes unspoken, realization ignites the desire to live on purpose in the second half.

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At the same time, pondering this serves to remind us that what we mean by the “second half of life” is something of a moving target. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, in 2001, the average life expectancy for men and women in the United States is about 77 years. So, statistically, most of us enter into the second half when we’re about 38 and a half. Our 40th birthdays, of course, are more of a watershed point when we’re apt to admit that we’re finally entering “middle age.” But that’s changing, too. These days, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, people turning 50 can expect to live another 30 to 32 years on average. That’s up more than a decade from the start of the twentieth century. And with advances in health care and medical technology, who knows how long the second half will be for any us?

Ironically, though, even as the years before us promise to stretch longer, the time remaining becomes more precious. While the perspective gained in the first half of life typically leads to a certain sense of calm in the second half, it also tends to bring with it a heightened sense of urgency.

What if, we may begin to ask ourselves, we do have only a short time left to live? What if, as in Dave’s dream, we have but a limited time to finish the unfinished business of our lives? In what ways would we act differently? In what ways would our best and truest purpose show itself in ways that it doesn’t now? What would we say that we haven’t said? What would we do that we haven’t done? How would we contribute in ways we’ve always wanted to but for one reason or another have held back from?

The realization that we may have a span of years ahead that stretches out as long as our entire adult life so far, combined with the understanding that, at any moment, we may be far past the actual midpoint of our lives, gives rise to numerous questions that cannot be avoided if we hope to retain our sense of vitality and purpose. And yet, as varied as these questions are, we believe they can be summed up by the inquiry we intend to pursue in the pages that follow:

As we move into the second half of life, how do we most fully and authentically claim our place at the fire?

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Endorsements

"This is a book that will comfort anyone afraid of growing old. It sheds new light on vital aging."
--Walter F. Mondale, Former Vice President, Senator and Ambassador

"As a generation, baby boomers have long been called 'the rat in the python.' Claiming Your Place at the Fire challenges us to be the python, not the rat--and to start by shedding our generational skins. This book is thoughtful, warm, helpful, and above all else, wise."
--Alan M. Webber, founding editor, Fast Company magazine

"Once again Richard and David have their finger on the pulse of purpose and that has always been their gift."
--Marshall Goldsmith, America's preeminent executive coach and founding director of the Alliance For Strategic Leadership

"Claiming Your Place at the Fire is a must-read for anyone entering the second half of life. Richard Leider and David Shapiro do an absolutely masterful job providing the necessary wisdom and tools to help all of us age successfully."
--Jeffry S. Life, M.D., Ph.D. Institute Physician, Cenegenics Medical Institute

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